Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.
First Reading: Numbers 6:22-27
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8
Second Reading: Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians 4:4-7
Gospel: According to St. Luke 2:16-21
Alphonsine Mumureke, Nathalie Mukamazimpaka and Marie Claire Mukangango, 1981; Mariette Beco, 1933; Lucia de Santos, Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto, 1917; Bernadette Soubirous, 1858; Maximin Giraud and Mélanie Calvat, 1846; Catherine Labouré, 1830; Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, 1531; Shepherds, 4 BC.
From the three schoolgirls in Rwanda in the late Twentieth Century all the way back to the shepherds tending their flocks at the beginning of the Christian era, divine intervention has bestowed the vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary upon the poor, the forgotten, the marginal, the supremely unimportant.
Look through the litany of those who have seen face-to-face the Mother of God. How many names do we even recognize? Probably St. Bernadette of Lourdes, St. Juan Diego of Guadalupe and Lucia and her beatified cousins of Fatima; possibly St. Catherine of Rue de Bac in Paris (the Miraculous Medal vision). Other than those, the rest are beyond obscure – as are the people who witnessed Our Lady at the other approved apparitions at Pontmain, France; Knock, Ireland; and Beauraing, Belgium.
Like the shepherds before them, they were just ordinary people of ordinary talents and abilities who had nothing about them to make them stand out from the crowd. They never made it onto the cover of People, Time or Rolling Stone. They never won an election, had a hit record or lifted a championship trophy.
But they all had something that makes every earthly award and honor pale in comparison – they had an encounter with the Theotokos, the “God-Bearer” or “Mother of God.” People go into ecstasies when they catch a glimpse of the likes of the rich and famous, but these humble nobodies actually had experiences that are literally defined as “ecstatic” (“out of equilibrium”).
Even Catholics who are totally skeptical of such apparitions – as is their right, even when the Church has declared Her approval – must adhere to the original apparition, that of the shepherds witnessing the angels. The miracles of the Gospels are beyond our questioning and to trust them is to trust the ultimate Author of the Good News.
Those shepherds were not emperors or kings, but instead were the humble and lowly who tended their sheep literally on the margins of society. They, as Pope Francis pointed out during one of his Christmas homilies, were the guests at the birth of the Lord while the self-sufficient “were at home with their possessions.” This is just one of the many paradoxes of the Nativity, the greatest of which is the Incarnation itself – God becoming human through the cooperation of the Blessed Mother, the young girl who said “Yes” to the divine invitation.
God’s intervention in our world comes to those who are not on any ‘Top Ten’ list: Richest, Best Dressed, Most Beautiful. His intervention is reserved for the ordinary and vulnerable, mostly, women and children - Juan Diego and the shepherds are the only adult males in our listed group of seers.
Christmas is a time of hope, and hope is a virtue most needed by the ordinary, the vulnerable, the forgotten and the marginalized. This Feast of Mary, Mother of God, reminds us all that hope is held in the arms of the young mother in the manger – a young mother who is one of the ordinary, the vulnerable, the forgotten and the marginalized - and as such, is the Mother to us all.